"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

alone in your body

Now Playing: Bedroom Hymns by Florence + The Machine (make me your Maria, I'm already on my knees) 

I don't have vaginismus anymore.

Well, at least, I don't think I do. Who knows what this year as a nun, sorry, research student will do to my body.

Here's the thing - pain and I, we've been acquainted for a long time. My life, all of it, is always punctuated by pain that I cannot properly describe, and I have devoted my entire professional life and much of my private life in trying to find the words to describe pain. There's the pain of being a queer woman of colour, there's the pain of being a mixed race second generation immigrant, but then there is pure, raw, physical, sanity-bending, word-defying, paralysing, breathless pain. My family have lived with this pain for as long as they have lived with me, but they still don't and never will understand what it is to be killed and flayed and stitched back together and reanimated, what it literally feels like to be literally heart sick. My doctors have been studying conditions like mine for longer than I have been alive but they are all able bodied old men who have no idea what it is like to live with a condition that they can describe and diagnose and operate on. I learned, from a very young age, that I am alone in my body, and I am alone in my experiences, and I am alone in my pain. We all are.

 I got vaginismus from getting assaulted when I was seventeen. It has been, by far, the hardest thing to write about, and one of the hardest things I've had to deal with in my life. It is not easy to have a sexual dysfunction when you are not in a long term monogamous relationship (because obviously hypothetical male partner deserves the sex more than you ever will) and/or trying to have a baby (you're too young to be a mum, why you wanna have sex anyway?). It is not easy to have a dysfunctional sexual organ when you occupy a profoundly hypersexualized body in a very sexually repressed society that does not like talking about sex or the many ways we fail at it. It is not easy to deal with the physical embodiment of trauma. It is not easy dealing with physical pain when the emotional pain is, as far as it can be, behind you. And no, it is not an easy thing to 'just deal with'. People pestered me many, many times to seek medical help, but let me tell you, doctors know less about sex than you'd think - given that my doctor, in all her wisdom, tried to shove a huge speculum in me, which was about as logical as forcing someone with a broken foot to run a marathon.

I felt very alone in my pain. I had acquired vaginismus through sexual assault, which is not something people like to think about, and something that is very easy to blame on me - I was drunk, I was flirting, etc. And I realized that vaginismus is not like a cold, where doctors know exactly what is wrong with you and exactly what pill to prescribe (incidentally, the same doctor with the Speculum of Fail managed to remove a very stubborn wart off my knee, so it's not like she was a total quack). No one understood what it meant, physically or psychologically, to exist as a sexual being with such a huge sexual problem. I felt lonely and immensely vulnerable and as time wore on I became increasingly panicked that my problem was permanent.

In the end, I overcame vaginismus because it is more a disease of the mind than of the body - which doesn't make it any less real, but I have experience battling demons. My partner was sweet and patient and endlessly understanding, as had all my other partners before him, but it didn't make me feel any less alone. There were no words to describe the strange mix of anticipation and excitement and impatience all mixed up with trepidation and panic and dread. The immense pain that was not immense in the actual physical sensation - I have endured much, much worse - but this overwhelming feeling of wrongness and alienness. I couldn't find the words to explain that I had to stop not because it hurt, which it did, but because I was having a full blown panic attack. I couldn't find the words to explain how slow and stupid I felt in the excruciatingly slow process of learning to associate things with pleasure instead of pain. There were so many words and none of them fit; and the empathy gap was obvious each time I had had enough, because no matter how attentive and considerate someone is there is always a tiny gap between when you call it off and when it actually stops. It's a cruel reminder of how alone we are in our bodies.

It was equal parts empowering and devastating that this was a problem that I had to overcome myself; there was no miracle cure, no expert advice. I often feel so alone in my body, but especially when I am in pain; people just stare in stupefied silence, because pain - both your own and others - defies language, and language is the lifeblood of my existence. I have never been the kind of woman people value for her looks or for how much of daddy's money she can splash; I've always been a woman of conversation, a nouveau Anne Boleyn. So I feel oddly dead when I do not have words, and strangely vulnerable when I am too tired to speak; as if I have been slaughtered. Which, of course, Anne Boleyn was.

I feel like, somewhere in this life of pain, I have learned loyalty. I am not a particularly empathetic person; one of the many side effects of being so caught up in your own pain is that sometimes you ignore the pain of others. But I have learned loyalty, and I think it is because I search for it so desperately and come up empty. Because for me to open up, for all the scars and broken bits about me, for all the moments when I will have to grit my teeth and bear the pain, for all times the people around me are forced to watch on when I am crumpled up and crying; it is a lot to show to the world, and so I think I am not asking too much when I ask for loyalty in return. And maybe that is the real pain of pain; that pain disrupts bonds, it causes people to pick up their skirts and run. Illness repulses, I learned that a long time ago. But a truly magnetic woman, one who genuinely has interesting things to say, contains multitudes; and you will not like all of it. But loyalty is demanded nonetheless.

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